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January 31, 2014
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One Nevada Joint Union high school board member announces run for re-election as another steps aside

Richard Baker, the current vice president of the Nevada Joint Union High School District board of trustees, confirmed Friday that he won’t seek re-election to his Area 1 post in 2014, but Area 2 Trustee Georgie Coulter announced she will run again.

Baker and Coulter are two of three board members whose terms expire in 2014. Wayne Klauer is also up for re-election but has yet to announce his intentions. Coulter has served on the board since 2006, while Baker was first elected in 2010.

“I was on the board because I felt like I had the skills to do what was required with the fiduciary responsibilities of the district and also to think of ways to move the district in the direction of what is good for the kids,” Baker told The Union Friday.

“I’m neither a politician or somebody interested in the extraneous aspects of being a school board member. And the majority of my time was spent on what I’d call ‘adults behaving badly,’ and I don’t feel like my time was being spent the way I anticipated.”

The district has seen substantial change during the four-year term of three members up for re-election, particularly with its administration. The district has been led by two superintendents since Ralf Swenson departed in 2010, with Marianne Cartan serving that role until her contract was terminated in March 2013. current Superintendent Louise Johnson hired last July.

“I’m very impressed with the new superintendent,” said Coulter, who represents Grass Valley as the Area 2 trustee. “She is working very hard and is doing an excellent job.”

Another high-profile decision that proved controversial for the board during the past term were changes at Nevada Union High School, where in 2011 Mike Blake became principal and replaced Marty Mathiesen, who took over at Park Avenue Alternative Education. NU Assistant Principal Cathy Peterson was transferred to Bear River High School at the same time. The change in leadership at the high schools drew large audiences at school board meetings, where the topic dominated public commentary.

Baker, who as the Area 1 trustee represents Nevada City, North San Juan and the vast majority of the high school district’s eastern boundaries, said he has helped the district make progress with its financial stability and relations with staff.

“But I don’t feel the time was spent as a benefit to the kids, and I don’t see it changing,” he said.

“It was a mix of parents, the general public and employees of the district,” Baker said.

“I don’t feel like I wanted to spend my time on lawsuits against the district or issues related to bad behavior … I think you should be able to expect people to behave properly within a work environment.”

Baker said a public records lawsuit filed by The Union newspaper, seeking access to documents pertaining to the termination of Cartan’s contract, was “distressing, because it cost the district about $20,000.” A judge ruled against disclosure of the documents in July.

Overall, Baker said the changes the board has made, particularly with its administration, have been positive for the district.

“I think we’re in pretty good shape,” he said. “I think the people we have, and the positions we have them in, are good people. … I’m very happy with the decisions we’ve made, especially our new superintendent. She’s going to be excellent.”

Coulter said many of her own concerns in the coming years are not necessarily issues arising at the local level but rather from Washington D.C. in the form of the Common Core State Standards, a national English and mathematics curriculum initiative.

“Some things that I don’t like are not caused by the district but by the federal government.” Coulter said. “I’d like to see California (determine) what it thinks is best for our schools. I don’t like the control the government will have over the education system throughout the country. And every state will have to comply with what they dictate. I don’t like that.”

Baker said that among the challenges he sees still ahead for the district, first and foremost are financial concerns.

“Getting the community and the staff to understand we have real issues related to the budget,” Baker said.

“With the new (state) Local Control Funding Formula, rural districts don’t benefit from that the same as urban districts do.”

He said that’s because the new formula directs more funds to districts with disadvantaged students, those receiving free or reduced lunches, those learning English as a second language or those who are foster children.

“And then with our declining enrollment … we receive far less funding,” he said. “You read in the newspaper that there is more funding for schools in California — and there is as a whole — but the vast majority is going to urban districts.

“We’re in a pretty bad situation financially within the district, and one of the challenges we face is getting the community and staff to understand that. … I have the utmost respect for teachers, but at the same time it’s difficult to go into negotiations with them, considering this situation.

“That requires an educational process that’s been complicated. We have to be conservative about our finances, so we’re here in a few years — so that programs can continue and so that we have financial stability in the district.”

Baker, a Nevada City architect, said he looks forward to spending more time with his family and his own interests after 15 years of serving on various boards throughout the western Nevada County community.

Klauer, who serves South County as the Area 5 trustee, could not be reached for comment on whether he intends to run for re-election to the five-person board in 2014. The terms of board President Katy Schwarz, the Area 3 trustee, and Jim Adams, who represents Area 4, expire in 2016.

Contact Editor Brian Hamilton via email at bhamilton@theunion.com or by phone at 477-4249.


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The Union Updated Feb 3, 2014 05:03PM Published Feb 4, 2014 03:37PM Copyright 2014 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.